Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Art of Social Networking

Times have certainly changed. Where once we wrote letters and talked with friends and family over the telephone on a regular basis, now we use social networking to keep in touch.

So what, you ask, are social networks? The most common of these are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (at least the ones I use). Each seems to serve its own purpose.


I use facebook to stay in touch with family and friends. Since I'm of an older generation, I don't put much on my facebook page, but I certainly “follow” several members of my family and some close friends, both from high school and college, and a few that I've met over the years.

Facebook allows you to post pictures from your computer and links to articles that you might want to pass along to others.

It’s easy to use and you can comment both on your “wall” (your homepage) or on other’s postings, which then show up on their wall.


Twitter is like an analog conversation. Someone posts their 140 or less characters message and you can either just view it if you “follow” them, or respond, if you have something pithy to say (in 140 or less characters!)

I use it mostly to follow the two areas of interest I have – Boston sports – nearly all of the better sports writers are on Twitter and use it to keep me up-to-date on the latest developments for the teams that I follow, the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots; and the second area is in eye care. I “follow” several eye care sites and keep up-to-date on the latest developments in my field of expertise. I also follow several breaking news sites and use their tweets to stay abreast of breaking world and local news.

I also use Twitter to announce new postings on my blogs. I have close to 100 followers and tweet short messages and a link when I put up a new posting. (Like I’ll do once I put this post up on my newest blog – Musings.)


This is primarily a site for business professionals. (Although, I also use it to follow developments with my former colleagues at Arthur D. Little, and also at my college, the University of Massachusetts.) However, its main application is to keep up with news and job offerings in your field of expertise, in my case ophthalmology and eye care.

I belong to about two dozen “groups” – members allied to a certain affiliation, such as Ophthalmic Marketing or Ophthalmic Professionals. Each group can have several hundred members, giving announcements to such groups wide spread delivery.

In addition, a couple hundred people are connected directly to me, former colleagues, new colleagues and a few friends.

This is the vehicle I primarily use to deliver news of new postings on my main blog, Irv Arons’ Journal, where I write about new developments in eye care and specifically in treating retinal diseases. When I put announcements (including a link) on several LinkedIn group sites, my blog gets several hundred page views from the sites over the next several days.


This is a new social networking site set up by Google to compete with Facebook, where you need to be invited to join. Its main feature is that you can set up “groups” or “circles” of certain colleagues, i.e., family, friends, or business associates, and only make announcements to one circle, unlike Facebook, where it is more difficult to have only certain people see your remarks. (However, Facebook has responded with its own “groups” feature, to emulate Google+.)

One of my friends, Debbie Levitt has just written an excellent article about the shortcomings of Google+, called “Why Google+ Lost Its Shine”. Here are a few comments from her piece:

“Nearly 100% of the posts were about Google+. It was the network that seemed to be built to discuss itself. Plus, with it being so limited in its early days, most of my Facebook friends weren't there. so I still had to go to Facebook to hear what they were thinking.”

“This is all getting very interesting. I'm glad I tried Google+. But I just don't really see the need for it when I can't connect to the people who interest me. because they're either not there or not using it. Or not talking about much other than Google+! “

If you would like to read the rest of her piece, please follow this link.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cloud Storage

Cloud Storage/Backup = Security

Sooner or later, you are going to experience a computer failure – the hard drive will fail or something else will go wrong. Will you be able to recover your important files? You will if you take advantage of the free cloud storage that is available.

What is Cloud Storage?

Several companies are offering free storage of your important files on the web, i.e., in the “clouds”. One that I use is called Dropbox. It offers 2GB of free storage. If you need more, you can pay for it. The features that I like best is that it will automatically put any changes you make in any file into your set of files in the cloud. It will also automatically synchronize all of the files across all of your devices/computers, as long as you have installed Dropbox onto these systems.

How Does it Work?

When you download Dropbox onto your main computer, it installs a file labeled “dropbox” in your documents section. You can then drag and drop (or copy and paste) any file you want to put into the cloud into the dropbox file and it will automatically become part of your dropbox storage. (If you have installed Dropbox on other devices – second computers, smartphones, etc., the files will automatically be available to you on these other devices.)

There are other “free” cloud storage systems – box.net, sugersync, and spideroak, to name a few, but dropbox seems to be the easiest to use and to synchronize with all of your devices.

Try it – you’ll like it! To try it at my invitation, follow this link.

(For a comparison of a large number of cloud storage sites, see Comparison of Online Backup Systems on Wikipedia)

How to Find Answers to Problems & A Good Way to Recycle Devices

Got a Problem - Need an Answer – Google it!

I was watching the Red Sox game and my wife went downstairs to use our computer. (We have a Dell Dimension 3000 system that was purchased in March 2005.) She soon came up to tell me that she couldn't wake up the computer - the screen remained black and wouldn't awaken.

I went downstairs to see what she could have done to the system and quickly discovered that the monitor wouldn't awake. Then I noticed that the green light that indicated the monitor was on was blinking green. It usually is a steady green when in use and orange when the computer is in sleep mode. This was a condition I hadn't seen before and couldn't get rid of.

Then I remembered what Don Orifice had told me to do in such cases. I turned on our backup computer and Googled this condition for a Dell monitor of my model, and sure enough, one of the chat rooms that I was directed to provided the answer. The monitor's circuit board was fried!

A Good Way to Recycle Your Electronic Devices

The next day, I went to Best Buy and bought a new hp 20" monitor. I took the old one in with me and took advantage of their recycling program – bring in any electronic device – computer, monitor, etc. and they will recycle it for $10 – and give you a Ten Dollar gift certificate in exchange. I used the gift certificate to help pay for my new monitor, which was on sale.

So, here are my two tips for today – got a problem? Google it and you will usually get an answer and secondly, need to recycle a broken electronic device? Bring it in to Best Buy and get rid of it for $10 (and get a matching gift certificate towards you next purchase).

The Wonderful World of Computers – A Personal Journey

To begin this series, and as an introduction to my computer background, I would like to start with a writeup I prepared in the summer of 2006 that was supposed to appear in the then North Shore Computer Society Newsletter. It was submitted, but unfortunately, a decision was made to stop publication of NEWS @ NorthShore.Org. With the revival of the newsletter this Fall, here, once again is my opus to my introduction to the World of Computers.


My first exposure to using a computer was in 1966 or 1967. I was working at the Exploratory Development Lab of United Carr, Inc. in Kendal Square, Cambridge, and the head of the lab decided that we needed a computer to work out the solutions to the experiments we were running. He bought and had installed a Mathatronics Mathatron. This computer, invented by a couple of local guys from Waltham, was really a glorified programmable calculator, with a tape output. We learned how to program this computer and used it for calculating the results of our sometimes complex experiments.

At the time, I was the secretary for the Temple Beth Shalom bowling league, and wrote a simple program that used the Mathatron to update the weekly bowling averages of the bowling league members. This was my first exposure to a working computer.


I next came into touch with a computer at my next job, as a consultant on the staff of Arthur D. Little, the world-wide technology and business consulting firm. I joined in March of 1969 and until the early 1980s, the secretaries used typewriters to prepare our proposals and reports from handwritten copy. I recall them using IBM Selectronics (with the moving ball instead of individual type keys). In 1981-1982, the secretaries got the first desktop IBM Personal Computers, the IBM PC, which made their jobs much easier, and provided us with much cleaner copies of proposals and reports.

It wasn’t until several years later, probably 1986, that the company started providing the professional staff with computers. My first computer was the so-called Compaq Portable II, an IBM-compatible computer. I’m not sure how a 30-pound computer could be called “portable”, but it was what it was and somehow I managed to lug it between the office and home when necessary. As I recall, the computer (with a small 9 inch green monochrome screen) used IBM DisplayWrite as its word processing program and also had Lotus 1-2-3 as a spread sheet.


Prior to getting the Compaq, I saw an ad in Popular Science in 1980 or 1981, for the Sinclair ZX 81 personal computer available for about $150. This was really a toy, having a tiny membrane keyboard, a 1 kilobyte memory, expandible to 16 K with an add-on module, and using a TV monitor as its screen. It was programmed with “basic” and the programs could be saved using a recorder and played back into the computer the same way. It came with a “cookbook” of basic programs, but with the tiny keyboard, you could only build the program and run the computer one finger at a time. It ran real simple programs, like for converting  F to  C, etc. But, it was fun to be able to say that you owned and used a “computer” at the time.


Then about 1989 or 1990, ADL switched the staff over to the Compaq Laptop, the model SLT/286. This machine ran the Intel 80286 chip, had a decent 9 inch monochrome screen ( I also got a separate 15 inch color monitor that I could attach to the laptop for working in my office) and was loaded with Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS and Lotus 1-2-3. Word Perfect 5.1 was and remains the best word processing program I ever used. It has a feature called the “reveal” function, which shows the formatting coding associated with each word or line of type. This allows you to easily change (or correct) the format as you go.

March 1994

In March 1994, I retired after 25 years at ADL, and as my going-away gift, asked for and received my Compaq Laptop. As I was starting my own consulting company, I wanted the computer primarily to take advantage of the many proposal and report templates that ADL had created and loaded onto my computer. Since I wanted and needed a full time computer and more realistic screen at home for the new business, I splurged and got a custom-built desktop designed to my specifications by PC Warehouse in Waltham, MA. This computer was a 486x33, with a 250 MB hard drive and a built-in 14.4K modem. I also bought a 15 inch NEC color monitor and an HP laser printer, for a total price of $3500 (which, I thought was a good price at the time). I had the computer technicians at PC Warehouse copy my ADL DOS operating system from my Compaq Laptop into my new desktop.

November 1997

I soon outgrew this first desktop and went back to PC Warehouse in November 1997 for an upgrade. This time, the desktop was a Pentium 586x166 with a 3 GB hard drive and had a 33.6K modem (later upgraded to a 56K model). The cost just for the computer – I kept my old monitor and printer – was $1168. I had the good people at PC Warehouse, again install my old DOS operating system but, it also operated Windows 3.1. I had the hard drive partitioned, so that I could switch between the DOS mode, using my Word Perfect 5.1 and Lotus 1-2-3 programs, or into Windows 3.1 from the C:/ prompt. This way I could still operate in either DOS or Windows 3.1 – but at a much faster rate. The Windows side also had a version of Word Perfect (Word Perfect for Windows) and Lotus, but neither was as easy to use as the DOS versions.

January 2001

Finally, in January 2001, I gave in to my family and friends that kept telling my that I was operating in the dark ages with DOS and Win 3.1, and broke down and got a Gateway V933 PC, operating Windows 98. It came with Office 2000 installed, which contained Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (for presentations), and I bought and installed a newer version of Word Perfect (Version 7.1), along with Quattro Pro (the updated version of Lotus 1-2-3). This computer also had a read/write CD drive, a 20 GB hard drive, and a 16 inch flat screen monitor, at a cost of $1700. (I also bought an Epson Stylus 880 color inkjet printer for an additional $150.)

However, in July, 2005, the CD drive on the Gateway stopped working and I took the computer to a local repair shop (The Computer Store) to have it replaced. Somehow, they managed to screw up the operating system while replacing the CD drive and the new/replacement Windows 98 OS never worked as well as the original set up, causing me all kinds of aggravation.

September 2005 - Present

I decided it was time, to once again upgrade. This time I bought a Dell Dimension 3000 system, with an 80 GB hard drive and a 17 inch LCD monitor, operating with Windows XP. It came with Word Perfect 12 and Quattro Pro 12 installed. This system, bought in September 2005 was only $940, and works like a charm. (I did install my copy of Office 2000 on the computer as well, so that I can work with either Word or Word Perfect.)

(I also had my old Gateway refurbished, having Windows 2000 installed. That way I would have a workable back up system if my new Dell ever crashed. But, the Gateway takes forever to boot up, as long as 5-6 minutes, compared to the 1  to 2 minutes that Dell XP takes.)

So, in a rather long-winded way, you have my journey through the world of computers. From my early days of calculating bowling league averages on the Mathatronic, to today, when I use my Dell to stay in touch with the world via the world wide web and publish my blog – putting a lot of what I’ve written over the past twenty years into the public (and accessible) record.

Note: To see pictures of most of the above computers, please take a look at my writeup on this subject on my other blog. Here’s the link.

2011 Update

After taking my daughter’s netbook to Aruba in January, to see if I could stay connected to the internet while on vacation, I found that it worked really well. Upon my return home, I purchased a Gateway Netbook at Best Buy for about $220, and now use it and it’s wireless connectivity on trips to the North Shore Mall and anywhere else there is a wifi connection, including upstairs in my home, as I have a wireless router network that I can connect to anywhere in the house.